On one side, a green light

on the other, a stop sign

Oakland's formidable rushing game meets its philosophical opposite

Raiders' run offense vs. Ravens' run defense

January 11, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Oakland Raiders want to establish the run, and the Ravens want to see them try.

It will be strength against strength as the NFL's best rushing attack collides with the league's top run-stopping defense.

The Raiders' offense revolves around running backs Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman, as well as the scrambling ability of quarterback Rich Gannon. The Ravens' defense prides itself on taking away the ground game and forcing teams to throw the ball.

Averaging 154 yards rushing per game, Oakland is committed to running the ball as its basic means of moving downfield. The Raiders have an NFL-best 128 first downs rushing and have scored 23 rushing touchdowns, best in the AFC.

The Ravens, on the other hand, have excelled against the best. They have faced eight running backs this season who finished among the top 13 rushers in the NFL; none gained 100 yards against them.

In fact, the Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Dec. 20, 1998, a span of 35 games.

"We just need to do our job," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said.

The NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, Lewis has been a one-man gang in the playoffs. He has 24 tackles in two games and was the main factor in the Ravens' holding Denver and Tennessee to a combined 3.3 yards per carry.

The Ravens, though, tend to eliminate team's running games as well as take advantage of them. They have forced a league-high 26 fumbles.

But that could prove more difficult against the Raiders, who ranked fourth in the NFL in fewest fumbles this season with nine.

Oakland's biggest test will be handling the Ravens' bulk inside. The Raiders' eight-time Pro Bowl left guard, Steve Wisniewski, will line up against Tony Siragusa, and right guard Mo Collins will draw Sam Adams.

The Raiders won't be able to run the ball if they can't budge Siragusa and Adams. But Oakland is one of the few teams that can match up in size with the Ravens, with no starting lineman under 305 pounds.

The line of scrimmage could determine what unit is truly the NFL's best.

"They have great athletes all over the field," Adams said. "When the off line is on point and knocking people off the ball, they're in control of the ball game. We can't let that happen. It's going to be a difficult task for us."

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